I think it prudent from time to time to re-examine my philosophy of classroom management. My philosophy of classroom management has changed over the years. When I was a newbie teacher, I thought if I used the right techniques for classroom management everything would be OK. Well, I’ve learned and used many classroom management techniques over the years, but I have come to the conclusion that while excellent management techniques are necessary for classroom success, they are not sufficient for classroom success. I found that developing an authentic relationship with my students helped my classroom management more than any of the latest classroom management techniques. When kids saw that I cared about them, they better managed their behaviour in class. I start to develop positive relationships with my students on the first day of school by asking these nine questions. How do you develop positive relationships with your student?
Of course I want my students to be successful. All teachers do. But, I think the Ministry of Education and I have different ideas about what student success means. I don’t think students are successful if they only develop intellectual skills. Earning a high school diploma may be a necessary condition for student success, but it is not a sufficient condition for achieving student success. Students aren’t just one dimensional beings. Students, like everyone else, are multidimensional. We all have an intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimension that needs nurturing. Students need help developing intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually (not in a religious sense but in the sense of dealing with alienation, with sense of identity, ) . So Ministry of Education, what are you going to do to help meet the spiritual needs of students?
Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
at least according to a nursery rhyme I remember from long ago. For most of my teaching career, I’ve been supporting kids who are filled with woe and have far to go like the Wednesday and Thursday child in the old nursery rhyme. I’ve found when children come to school filled with woe they can’t do their best. Chronic psychological stress is a form of woe, and it can thwart kids’ progress in school. Chronic psychological stress can negatively affect kids’ cognitive development, working memory, problem solving ability, attention and emotion regulation.
Clancy Blair’s discusses the negative effects of chronic psychological stress on student success in his article “Treating A Toxin To Learning” in the September/October issue of Scientific American Mind. Blair’s research supports the contention that chronic psychological stress due to financial worries, the inability to provide adequate child care, the crowded conditions and noise that accompany low income affects the thinking skills and brain development of very young children. But, it’s not only kids who live in conditions of poverty that suffer from chronic psychological stress. Kids from other family circumstances that involve divorce, death, overbearing or distracted parents and kids who have learning disabilities can also develop chronic psychological stress. Chaotic and poorly run classrooms and problems with peers can also cause psychological stress that can impact kids negatively.
Blair argues improving kids psychological well being by improving conditions at home and in the classroom would reduce stress and enable kids to do their best in school. To this end, Blair and his collaborators are doing two things. First, they’re testing a program that supports parents by teaching them better parenting skills to help them become more sensitive and able to structure learning experiences for their kids while providing a warm and caring home environment; and, second they’re testing a new curriculum that gives preschool and kindergarten kids more control over how they learn.
The education system has spent a lot of time and money trying to help academically at risk students succeed and stay in school until they graduate. I’ve taught in alternative programs that we hoped would give kids the support they needed so they’d do their best and graduate from high school. I think we should do all we can to help students. One of my department heads when I first started teaching told me I would be doing well if I helped my students become tax payers. I was too idealistic at the time to appreciate his advice. These alternative programs do give kids some extra support that helps a bit. But, I think we also need to give parents who are in psychologically stressful circumstances more support. I think if we help one another, we all benefit. I don’t mean just throwing money at a problem because that isn’t helpful in the long run.
I’m looking forward to seeing the data from Blair’s research. I hope there is a strong positive correlation between the support parents and students receive in the two programs and student success.
Usually during the summer break after I’ve been away from the craziness of the June classroom for a while, a good long while, I begin to reflect on my teaching practice for the previous year. Usually this reflection includes reflecting on expectations, mine and my students. I want to be sure my expectations are reasonable given the nature of the changing 21st century classroom and students. I’ve taught for 30 years so some things have really changed and some haven’t. Today, I’m reflecting on things my students have told me they expect from teachers that really have nothing to do with cell phones, ipads, tablets etc or the 21st century. Students have told me they would like teachers to
- not abuse their power and order students around as if they control their lives;
- respect students personal lives and not bug them about personal things that are none of their business;
- not yell at students because that just makes them mad and not want to listen;
- not talk about themselves all the time and show that they’re smarter than students are because students find it discouraging;
- not treat students like they don’t know anything;
- have respect for students no matter what they’ve have done before;
- listen to both sides of the story;
- be equally fair to all students;
- try to help all students have the best results in class;
- give less homework because it is hard to do homework by themselves if they cannot ask the teacher;
- give more free time in class to do homework;
- give less homework because it is boring and takes away from time with family and friends;
- let students eat in class because sometimes they are hungry in class and can’t stay awake in class;
- not give homework before the holidays;
- let students listen to music while working in class;
- let students watch videos in class and not have to write about them;
- to want students to pass their classes;
- to be helpful, respectful, and fun to be around.
Basically students want teachers to respect them, but then of course teachers want students to respect them, too. Respect is a two way street that is constantly under construction. My students’ expectations help inform my teaching practice and enables me to create an inviting classroom where my students and I can do our best.
You might want to ask your students to tell you what they expect from teachers. I found students are not shy about revealing their expectations. The expectations also make good starting points for discussions.